Dennis is yet to put a run on the board with new squad Bahrain-Merida this season, something he is aware of and befuddled by on the back of a career-defining 2018 campaign.
The 29-year-old was part of an 11-man front group that formed within the final 30km of an arduous 214.5km trek through tall pines tree and snow but was caught and resolved with moves and countermoves. He finished 20th behind teammate Hermann Pernsteiner– 38 seconds in arrears of stage winner Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and new race leader Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First).
Dennis has been an understated presence at Bahrain-Merida following a silver medal at the national time trial championships in January and fifth overall finish at the Tour Down Under. It’s in contrast to his performance this time last year at the Giro d’Italia where the Australian wore the maglia rosa, won the stage 16 time trial and finished 16th overall as a team leader of the now defunct BMC squad.
“Everything I’ve done training wise with [long-time coach] Neal [Henderson] and fitness and numbers, seem to be within reason of exactly the same or sometimes even better. So yeah, I’m not sure what’s going on,” Dennis said before today’s stage start in Rancho Cordova.
“It’s been a little bit up and down and not the results I would have liked. I would have liked to come out of Tour Down Under flying in certain time trials, but it’s a new team, new equipment and you have to get used to it. I have to be patient, I think.
“The teammates are pretty easy to get along with. I’ve been with the same group more or less every single race. The dynamic of it is obviously all new people. Most of us have come from different teams and getting to know each other and how we work is really the main thing.”
This year’s Tour of California has been billed as the toughest edition yet but even without a time trial can still play to Dennis’s strengths as he builds towards the Tour de Suisse and then supporting Italian veteran Vincenzo Nibali in a Tour de France title bid. Nibali is currently competing at the Giro.
“Here we’re basically looking to see where my form is at when it comes to climbing and GC. There are no time trials so I can’t really fall back on that to help me get a result,” he said. “I have to be more of a racer when it comes to this race. I can do that. I’ve done it before.”